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The Cold War: A World History

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From a Bancroft Prize-winning scholar, a new global history of the Cold War and its ongoing impact around the world We tend to think of the Cold War as a bounded conflict: a clash of two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, born out of the ashes of World War II and coming to a dramatic end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. But in this major new work, From a Bancroft Prize-winning scholar, a new global history of the Cold War and its ongoing impact around the world We tend to think of the Cold War as a bounded conflict: a clash of two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, born out of the ashes of World War II and coming to a dramatic end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. But in this major new work, Bancroft Prize-winning scholar Odd Arne Westad argues that the Cold War must be understood as a global ideological confrontation, with early roots in the Industrial Revolution and ongoing repercussions around the world. In The Cold War, Westad offers a new perspective on a century when great power rivalry and ideological battle transformed every corner of our globe. From Soweto to Hollywood, Hanoi, and Hamburg, young men and women felt they were fighting for the future of the world. The Cold War may have begun on the perimeters of Europe, but it had its deepest reverberations in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, where nearly every community had to choose sides. And these choices continue to define economies and regimes across the world. Today, many regions are plagued with environmental threats, social divides, and ethnic conflicts that stem from this era. Its ideologies influence China, Russia, and the United States; Iraq and Afghanistan have been destroyed by the faith in purely military solutions that emerged from the Cold War. Stunning in its breadth and revelatory in its perspective, this book expands our understanding of the Cold War both geographically and chronologically, and offers an engaging new history of how today’s world was created.


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From a Bancroft Prize-winning scholar, a new global history of the Cold War and its ongoing impact around the world We tend to think of the Cold War as a bounded conflict: a clash of two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, born out of the ashes of World War II and coming to a dramatic end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. But in this major new work, From a Bancroft Prize-winning scholar, a new global history of the Cold War and its ongoing impact around the world We tend to think of the Cold War as a bounded conflict: a clash of two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, born out of the ashes of World War II and coming to a dramatic end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. But in this major new work, Bancroft Prize-winning scholar Odd Arne Westad argues that the Cold War must be understood as a global ideological confrontation, with early roots in the Industrial Revolution and ongoing repercussions around the world. In The Cold War, Westad offers a new perspective on a century when great power rivalry and ideological battle transformed every corner of our globe. From Soweto to Hollywood, Hanoi, and Hamburg, young men and women felt they were fighting for the future of the world. The Cold War may have begun on the perimeters of Europe, but it had its deepest reverberations in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, where nearly every community had to choose sides. And these choices continue to define economies and regimes across the world. Today, many regions are plagued with environmental threats, social divides, and ethnic conflicts that stem from this era. Its ideologies influence China, Russia, and the United States; Iraq and Afghanistan have been destroyed by the faith in purely military solutions that emerged from the Cold War. Stunning in its breadth and revelatory in its perspective, this book expands our understanding of the Cold War both geographically and chronologically, and offers an engaging new history of how today’s world was created.

30 review for The Cold War: A World History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Peter Mcloughlin

    First off this is pretty much an establishment history that looks at the cold war from the commanding heights. This is not a bad thing. If one wants to understand the cold war one should look from a bird's eye view on the chess board and not stray too far from the consensus when entering the subject. When one digs deeper and develops alternative interpretations of this period one will at least have familiar landmarks as a reference as a jumping off point. This history and very detailed and First off this is pretty much an establishment history that looks at the cold war from the commanding heights. This is not a bad thing. If one wants to understand the cold war one should look from a bird's eye view on the chess board and not stray too far from the consensus when entering the subject. When one digs deeper and develops alternative interpretations of this period one will at least have familiar landmarks as a reference as a jumping off point. This history and very detailed and covers in a traditional way the three major periods the early phase of the forties and fifties, the detente period of the sixties and seventies, and the Reagan period from the late seventies with increasing tensions and the historical unlikely ending of a peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev (nobody in the early 1980s could possibly have guessed that end of cold war would play out that way instead of nuclear apocalypse.) Very solid detailed global history good entry point to explore this critical period.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nils

    Simply the best single volume political history of the Cold War. But for its 600+p length, it would be a shoo-in to replace Gaddis as the standard text for classroom use, as it is in all ways a superior book. Organized in part chronologically but mainly geographically, it is really a global history of how the Cold War affected the politics and conflicts of different regions (rather than a different book, which might have been organized for example thematically, about nuclear strategy, cultural Simply the best single volume political history of the Cold War. But for its 600+p length, it would be a shoo-in to replace Gaddis as the standard text for classroom use, as it is in all ways a superior book. Organized in part chronologically but mainly geographically, it is really a global history of how the Cold War affected the politics and conflicts of different regions (rather than a different book, which might have been organized for example thematically, about nuclear strategy, cultural competition, models of development, or so forth). The result is to give a good sense of how the Cold War meant very different things in different parts of the world. Perhaps the most surprising interpretation in the book is the world-historical centrality it assigns to the Portuguese Revolution of 1974, not a moment normally treated as one of the hinges of history. But, according to Westad, the Portuguese rejection of Salazar had two signal effects. First, it led directly to the completion of the decolonization of Africa, and to the installation of Soviet-supported regimes in both Mozambique and above all Angola, which reignited the Cold War in the Global South, even as the US was withdrawing from combat in SE Asia. This, he argues, was the coup de grace to détente, which was already effectively dying under Carter even before Reagan delivered its official rejection. (Like many other recent histories, particularly ones regarding deregulation, this emphasizes the continuity rather than discontinuity from Carter to Reagan. Westad also emphasizes how tenuous détente always was, and that it was already dead before Reagan took office, killed by the Marxist-Leninist regime advances in Lusophone Africa in 1974, in SE Asia in 1975, in Ethiopia in 1978, in Afghanistan and Nicaragua in 1979. Carter killed it in 1980, and Reagan got the credit.) Second, the appearance of an officially pro-Soviet communist party in Portugal brought together some strange bedfellows, including anti-Soviet Eurocommunists, Catholic groups, Social Democrats, and the CIA, who were all bent on deepening European Community integration, a project that would lead to the expansion of the EEC. The huge benefits that the countries in Southern Europe received from joining Europe made the prospect much more tempting to Eastern Europeans who in the 1980s were chaffing under the stagnation of centralized planning.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    Greg Cusack June 24, 2018 The Cold war – a period that is usually dated from 1946 (or 1947) until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 – continues to influence us today. Indeed, with renewed tensions between Russia and the West and the rise to great power status of modern China, it is clear that many of the most pernicious characteristics of that time – rising military expenditures and stereotyping the behavior, and doubting the motives of, “the other side” – are still with us. As one born Greg Cusack June 24, 2018 The Cold war – a period that is usually dated from 1946 (or 1947) until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 – continues to influence us today. Indeed, with renewed tensions between Russia and the West and the rise to great power status of modern China, it is clear that many of the most pernicious characteristics of that time – rising military expenditures and stereotyping the behavior, and doubting the motives of, “the other side” – are still with us. As one born in 1943, I remember many things about that time vividly: how in grade school we were instructed that, in the case of a warning siren or sudden flash of light, we were to kneel next to our desks and cover our heads; riding in the family car in the early 1950s and peering closely at a small house we were passing, hoping to get a glimpse of the mysterious person – a “communist” – that my father said lived there; and fearing, one beautiful autumn afternoon in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, that we were on the brink of a nuclear war. This book reminded me that living through the Cold War, however, is not the same as understanding it. Although I remember most of the key events and national leaders of the period, my knowledge of the causal forces behind them, as well as how they were interrelated, was influenced – and limited – by the emotions and passions of the time. Westad’s lengthy book (630 pages), representing a staggering amount of research, is dazzling in its breadth of comprehension and clarity of narrative. He reminds us that even though the Cold War is remembered not only as a period of great tension but also as having successfully avoided conflict between East and West (the clash between US and Chinese troops in Korea being the sole exception), there were a number of costly conflicts during these years between smaller states, often complicated when one or more of the rival powers decided to support a particular side. Westad says the seeds of the Cold War were planted much earlier, in the latter part of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century, when Western nations competed to accumulate colonies in India, Africa, and Asia, China suffered repeated interventions by the West and Japan, and Russia and the United States began to assume greater international prominence. An arms race between the then-great powers of Germany, Great Britain, France and Russia eventually led to the ghastly human and economic losses of World War I, further contributing to the genesis of the Cold War by unleashing destabilizing forces that battered Europe, such as the collapse of the old Austria-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian empires, the birth of Soviet Russia, simmering resentment in Germany over its defeat that contributed to the eventual rise of Hitler, and imperial Japan’s hunger for territorial and economic gains in both China and the western Pacific. Europe’s struggle to achieve post-war stabilization was undermined by the Great Depression, even as Japan’s invasion of Manchuria exposed the powerlessness of the League of Nations. Less than 20 years after the ending of the first, an even more devastating world war created the immediate conditions from which the Cold War began: an exhausted Europe too enfeebled to hang on to its far-flung colonial ventures, the Soviet Union exercising de facto control over much of central and eastern Europe, and the ending of China’s long internal struggle with Mao’s defeat of Chiang Kai-Shek. Over the next several decades, as tensions between East and West grew, former colonial states won their independence, sometimes peacefully, other times not. Jealous of their newly won independent status, they were wary of the embrace of either rival bloc. For a few years, spurred on by newly independent India’s Prime Minister Nehru, they sought to become a neutral grouping of unaligned states. Economic and political realities, however, soon forced most of them, especially the smaller ones, into the shadow of one camp or the other. Among the many thoughts triggered by Westad’s narrative, some of the most provocative involve how the Cold War might very well have turned out very differently if only: • US president FDR had lived into the post-war era so that he could have continued to develop his relationship with Soviet leader Stalin in implementing their wartime agreements; • FDR’s successor Truman had understood that Stalin had no interest in actually invading western Europe, he might have avoided some of his policy decisions that served to convince Stalin that the US was a threat to his survival; • Stalin had refused to agree to North Korea’s wish to invade South Korea, what Westad calls “an entirely avoidable war” which “devastated a country and enchained a people” might not have happened; • The United States had not ignored China’s clear warnings about nearing its border during the Korea war and, instead, had withdrawn its forces south of the original demarcation line, the second, even more violent phase of that war, might never have happened; • The US had not consistently assumed that all nationalist movements were also communist in nature, it might have avoided those repeated interventions in other nations that so often resulted in more warfare; • US president John Kennedy had not been murdered and, instead, continued to build upon the effort begun with Soviet leader Khrushchev towards limiting the nuclear arms race and beginning disarmament, the subsequent relationship between the United States and Russia might have evolved into a workable partnership. Throughout this remarkable book, the reader “hovers” in time, watching as key decisions are made and marveling at how many of them were based upon misinformation or misunderstandings. The tit-for-tat response and counter-response of each side to the other’s moves (or what were thought to be their intentions) for the next several decades only served to reinforce – and, in a real sense, create – the belief that this was an all or nothing struggle for survival. Nonetheless, for all of the missteps and misjudgments – and there were many by all involved – major disasters were somehow avoided. This is all the more amazing because the Soviet Union, the United States and China all had significant internal destabilization at some point during these long years: within Russia it was the period of “de-Stalinization,” when Khrushchev attempted to undo many of the excesses embraced by Stalin during his long rule; in the US, the hysteria of the “Red scare” of the ‘40s and ‘50s was soon followed by domestic unrest resulting from the civil rights movement and the country’s deepening involvement in the unpopular war in Viet Nam; and in China Mao struggled with the Olympian task of rapidly bringing his poor and rural country into the modern age. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, some in the West foolishly proclaimed “victory” while others believed that now the world could embark on a truly peaceful future. However, since the fundamental causes of the Cold War – indeed, of all of the conflicts of the bloody 20th century – remain little understood and, therefore, unresolved, it is hardly surprising that we find ourselves in the second decade of the 21st century once again in a time of rising inter-state tensions aggravated by extreme nationalists. Instead of building bridges, or reinforcing those that exist, far too many seem determined to blow them up once again. Despite the beliefs of some, history does not “repeat itself.” What do re-occur are stubborn patterns of human behavior that, sadly, repeatedly lead to tragic outcomes. Not only, for example, do today’s nationalist populists, constantly sowing suspicions about multi-state cooperation, use the alleged threat posed by immigrants to boost their own control, but they also refuse to recognize how those waves of refugees are largely the result of climate change – heat waves, droughts, and crop failures – and ongoing wars and civil unrest that can only be successfully resolved through international teamwork. Where among us are those with eyes to see and courage to lead?

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    This book covers a broad range of topics while still managing to narrate the entire Cold War, but falls short for me due to the quality of writing. I've been looking for a balanced, in-depth single volume overview of the Cold War that has some academic rigor. First, I read John Lewis Gaddis' "The Cold War: A New History", but found it actually too short, a bit myopic in scope, and a bit too biased toward the West. On first glance, this book by Westad looked like it might fit the bill, and after This book covers a broad range of topics while still managing to narrate the entire Cold War, but falls short for me due to the quality of writing. I've been looking for a balanced, in-depth single volume overview of the Cold War that has some academic rigor. First, I read John Lewis Gaddis' "The Cold War: A New History", but found it actually too short, a bit myopic in scope, and a bit too biased toward the West. On first glance, this book by Westad looked like it might fit the bill, and after reading it I found it did fill in many key details and provide a broader perspective on the conflict. However, I ultimately thought this Westad book rather disappointing as well, in part because the academic rigor is watered down by too many explanatory passages with unsupported vague, general statements rather than concise convincing arguments, and especially because much of the organization and writing style is simply poor. Among this book's stronger parts are its beginning and concluding chapters. It helpfully starts out by summarizing the development and spread of Marxist ideology in the century before the Cold War, and also the rise of the US as a world and imperial power. The book concludes with a critical appraisal of key trends that developed out of the Cold War, such as how US support for Afghan mujahideen fighting the Soviet invasion eventually contributed to the creation of al Qaeda and then of course the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the post-Soviet slide of Russia from impoverished new democracy to today's autocracy under Putin. So the book looks at about a century and a half of history, around 4 times longer than the actual Cold War, which is invaluable for explaining both how the conflict arose and what effect it still has on current events. The vast bulk of the book, over 500 pages, is narrative and analysis of the Cold War itself. I found the level of detail about ideal for an undergrad introductory overview. The choice of what’s covered and what’s left out seems reasonable, as I didn’t notice any serious omissions. (I do think the author could have skipped a few of the nostalgic personal stories about his home country of Norway, simply because not much of great Cold War importance happened there.) The narrative of what happened is a good bit stronger than the analysis of why, however. Major decisions by top leadership are explained fairly briefly. These explanations would benefit from expansion, perhaps by looking at why alternatives were rejected, and they especially need better supporting documentation (quotes from speeches and documents, and pointers to key related scholarship). There is somewhat better coverage of political and socio-economic trends (such as the widening gap in living standards between West and East later in the conflict), and weaker coverage of military aspects (the nuclear arms race, the numerous small and large “hot wars” that flared), diplomatic matters such as how the major treaties were negotiated, and the espionage war between spy services. The book’s overall balance seems fair, when evaluating the moral and human consequences of each sides' policy decisions. It depicts but doesn’t dwell on Communist cruelty such as Stalin's purges and deliberate famine in the Ukraine, Mao's disastrous Great Leap Forward, and the lack of political freedom and eventual economic stagnation in the Eastern bloc. Meanwhile it criticizes US support for right-wing dictatorships, but also highlights the popular appeal of the freedom and greater prosperity of the West. Toward the end, thankfully it does not lionize Reagan (as the Gaddis book does); as a result, right-wing anti-Communist hawks will likely disapprove. Meanwhile, left-leaning readers may be dismayed to note that the book touches only lightly on anti-imperialist and neo-colonialist critiques of the Western powers. The strongest aspect of the book overall is its depiction and analysis of the global impact of the Cold War. (This is to be expected, since the author is an expert in this area.) The Non-Aligned Movement, especially major players Nehru of India and Nasser of Egypt, are discussed at considerable length. Regions that were more peripheral to the conflict (compared to Europe and Asia), such as Africa, also receive plenty of attention. Frustratingly, like the Gaddis book, coverage of the main events of the Vietnam War is brief and muddled--it gets a chapter of its own, but a third of that is taken up with matters elsewhere, and the conclusion of the war waits in a later chapter. Therefore it’s hard to see the progression of how the U.S. blundered into the quagmire, and eventually retreated out. On the other hand the chapters that cover how the Eastern bloc and shortly after the USSR itself unravelled are done well. Gorbachev gets his due as the key figure in all this, and is depicted partly tragically, as he loses control of his reforms and ultimately even the Soviet state. Most of what I’ve said up to now is positive, but the book still has serious problems: it’s poorly organized and stylistically weak, enough to knock its rating down at least a full star. Chapters cover mostly a single subject, often a narrative of a broad trend, or the Cold War history of a major country or region, or the leadership of a major figure such as JFK. The chapters are ordered roughly chronologically by when that trend or country was most significant. This high-level organization usually works, although there is typically a jarring jump backward in time when advancing from one chapter to the next. The big problem is that there is no lower-level organization: there is a near-complete lack of chapter subdivisions, with many abrupt transitions between topics (such as the jump from Indochina to Africa in the middle of the chapter on Vietnam) not marked with a subheading, or in any other way. It’s not even easy to find a suitable place to take a break from reading. Along with this, the index is sparse, so it’s sometimes hard to find where certain topics are covered, and there are very few maps (and no pictures). Worst of all, a lot of the writing is simply weak. Here is just one brief glaring example: the last paragraph of the chapter on JFK (“Kennedy’s Contingencies”) starts out “Were the Berlin and Cuban crises Cold War watersheds? Some say they were:”. Who says so? Why no footnotes to related scholarship? Why is the rest of the paragraph so vague (and again, without footnotes)? The last sentence asserts “During Kennedy’s time in office, the Cold War was becoming truly global, and the burdens it put on the material and mental resources of its main protagonists increased relentlessly”, after little supporting argument for these points during the preceding chapter. It’s not that the assertion is wrong, it’s just made in a way that doesn’t convince. There are also innumerable awkward turns of phrase, such as “mental resources” here, a sign the book needed much tighter proofreading and editing. The overall effect of this vague and awkward style does not completely cloud the overall meaning, but it does greatly reduce the reader’s enjoyment, turning a long historical journey into a slog. A final major omission is the complete absence of an annotated biblipgraphy (although there are full biblipgraphic citations in individual footnotes). One pedagogical use of a thick overview book like this is to provide pointers to other sources for deeper dives on specific topics, preferably with some notes from the author about those sources’ strengths and weaknesses. This book almost completely falls down in this regard, so you’ll have to consult another volume if you want to figure out what to read next. In summary, this book covers reasonably well the key events, trends, and context of the Cold War that I think should be in a single-volume overview, but I wish a more skilled writer had created it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    Description: From a Bancroft Prize-winning scholar, a new global history of the Cold War and its ongoing impact around the world We tend to think of the Cold War as a bounded conflict: a clash of two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, born out of the ashes of World War II and coming to a dramatic end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. But in this major new work, Bancroft Prize-winning scholar Odd Arne Westad argues that the Cold War must be understood as a global ideological Description: From a Bancroft Prize-winning scholar, a new global history of the Cold War and its ongoing impact around the world We tend to think of the Cold War as a bounded conflict: a clash of two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, born out of the ashes of World War II and coming to a dramatic end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. But in this major new work, Bancroft Prize-winning scholar Odd Arne Westad argues that the Cold War must be understood as a global ideological confrontation, with early roots in the Industrial Revolution and ongoing repercussions around the world. In The Cold War, Westad offers a new perspective on a century when great power rivalry and ideological battle transformed every corner of our globe. From Soweto to Hollywood, Hanoi, and Hamburg, young men and women felt they were fighting for the future of the world. The Cold War may have begun on the perimeters of Europe, but it had its deepest reverberations in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, where nearly every community had to choose sides. And these choices continue to define economies and regimes across the world. Today, many regions are plagued with environmental threats, social divides, and ethnic conflicts that stem from this era. Its ideologies influence China, Russia, and the United States; Iraq and Afghanistan have been destroyed by the faith in purely military solutions that emerged from the Cold War. Opening: The Cold War originated in two processes that took place around the turn of the twentieth century. One was the transformation of the United States and Russia into two supercharged empires with a growing sense of international mission. The other was the sharpening of the ideological divide between capitalism and its critics.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sverre

    In Odd Arne Westad's The Cold War: A World History, the Norwegian Harvard professor presents the confrontation between capitalism and communism in a hundred-year perspective beginning in the 1890s. Westad states that it started with "the first global capitalist crisis, the radicalization of the European labor movement, and the expansion of the United States and Russia as transcontinental empires" (p. 4). His single volume is ambitious, uncompromising and superbly crafted; easily making it a book In Odd Arne Westad's The Cold War: A World History, the Norwegian Harvard professor presents the confrontation between capitalism and communism in a hundred-year perspective beginning in the 1890s. Westad states that it started with "the first global capitalist crisis, the radicalization of the European labor movement, and the expansion of the United States and Russia as transcontinental empires" (p. 4). His single volume is ambitious, uncompromising and superbly crafted; easily making it a book of choice for understanding the grand geopolitical chess of the Cold War and it's far reaching implications to date.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Sternisha

    This is an ambitious work by the preeminent historian of the Global Cold War. Westad certainly touches on most of the countries that were affected by the Cold War, but his acceptance of the Cold War as a useful trope to evaluate the entire world is flawed. Indeed, Westad is one of the historians who has shown that the Cold War was anything but "cold." It was actually comprised of many "hot" wars. Portraying the conflict between the US and USSR as "cold" delegitimizes the deaths of hundreds of This is an ambitious work by the preeminent historian of the Global Cold War. Westad certainly touches on most of the countries that were affected by the Cold War, but his acceptance of the Cold War as a useful trope to evaluate the entire world is flawed. Indeed, Westad is one of the historians who has shown that the Cold War was anything but "cold." It was actually comprised of many "hot" wars. Portraying the conflict between the US and USSR as "cold" delegitimizes the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people around the world and portrays them as pawns in a bigger game by white, European and American powers. Westad tries to show that these smaller, less powerful countries had some impact on the US and USSR, but often paints the situation in a manner where one of the superpowers acted and the less powerful country reacted. There is a brief chapter on Latin America in which Westad shows that the people in those countries had some agency, but he rarely gives agency to any players outside of the Non-Aligned Movement, led by India. Further, Westad never touches on the people in the "third world" (another trope that delegitimizes people who do not live in Europe or the US) countries outside of the governmental figures. The reader is left wondering what the lives of the citizens in the "third world" countries was like. Other historians have shown that many of them did not care one way or another for communism, capitalism, the USSR, or the US, yet Westad does not examine this at all. The strongest aspect of this book is in its discussion of the triangle of the US-USSR-Sino relations, as Westad continually discusses that complex, evolving relationship. This book will likely become the text of choice for any classes on the Global Cold War and for any readers who want to read more on this topic. His lack of discussion of non-governmental figures can perhaps be forgiven due to the scope of the book. However, the lack of agency that Westad attributes to the non-superpowers is something of which readers must be aware.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Maarten Mathijssen

    Can you write an objective book about the Cold War? I believe Westad did, the fact he's from Norway probably helps. Looking at the conflict from this objective point of view one can only draw one conclusion: no matter what mistakes the West (USA) made, compares what the other side did it almost seems harmless. Nice example ; when Westad describe the McCarty period, with it's witch hunt on everyone suspected of leftish sympathies one can only be appalled. But the next chapter is about Stalin's Can you write an objective book about the Cold War? I believe Westad did, the fact he's from Norway probably helps. Looking at the conflict from this objective point of view one can only draw one conclusion: no matter what mistakes the West (USA) made, compares what the other side did it almost seems harmless. Nice example ; when Westad describe the McCarty period, with it's witch hunt on everyone suspected of leftish sympathies one can only be appalled. But the next chapter is about Stalin's gulags with it's million of casualties. The conclusion Westad draws in the end in all his so precious objectivity is that the Sovjet Union (and all communist states) is a failed state with disastrous consequences for it's people. But also the the USA failed to adapt to the new situation after 1990 in a proper way, keeping this "us against them" attitude, Westad is probably right. Great book, everybody with an interest in 20th century history should read it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Vincenzo Tagle

    In my mind, this is the definitive history of the Cold War. It's comprehensive, dedicates some time to countries and regions that are often overlooked when one writes about a history of the Cold War, and leaves you with the urge to look for specific accounts of events that are glossed over in this tome.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Campbell

    I don't know whether this is just too dry for my taste at the minute, whether the author is handling the subject poorly or whether I'm just not that interested. Possibly a mixture of all three. Whatever the reading, I'm stopping here. I may return to it at some point in the future.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Declan Waters

    An epic journey through the Cold War including it's causes, effects and actions during, and the consequences of it. This book is packed full of information, stories and commentary from the Cold War by Westad - who is clearly very knowledgable of this subject. Easy to follow, and to keep most of the key information in your head long enough to engage in each chapter, this is journey through the World's recent history and the ramifications still being felt today. Westad takes the reader from 1945 An epic journey through the Cold War including it's causes, effects and actions during, and the consequences of it. This book is packed full of information, stories and commentary from the Cold War by Westad - who is clearly very knowledgable of this subject. Easy to follow, and to keep most of the key information in your head long enough to engage in each chapter, this is journey through the World's recent history and the ramifications still being felt today. Westad takes the reader from 1945 and the splitting of Europe following the end of the World War in Europe, through the spread of communism in Eastern Europe, the building of the wall, and the impact of the Cold War on most of the countries in the world. Focusing - as one might expect - on USA & USSR, the author never-the-less ensures he refers to many of the countries affected, including their rebellions, the subsidies of the two great powers and the outcome of conflicts. He also examines what it was like to live on the West & East side of the divide, and explores life in China and - to a lesser extent - India as well. The World spanning coverage of the book made it very easy to follow & understand the authors views and the historical events and people that underpin them, and the Cold War itself. Very good book for anyone interested in the era.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mustafa Ibrahim

    Compelling and objective narrative.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel Gale

    A good general history with some interesting ideas. One that I found particulary relevant was his opinion that the EU integration process was a major cause for the colapse of the eastern european socialist regimes

  14. 4 out of 5

    Joshua de Vries

    I was skeptical that a single volume could encompass the Cold War in any meaningful detail, but this book does a terrific job, pointing out cause-and-effect trends on a global scale. It devotes a great deal of time on China, South America, East Asia and Indochina, the Middle East, and Africa, linking events together in a global web, avoiding the simplistic dichotomy of the USA and the USSR. The author explains events with a sweeping detachment, looking down on things from above, but the reader I was skeptical that a single volume could encompass the Cold War in any meaningful detail, but this book does a terrific job, pointing out cause-and-effect trends on a global scale. It devotes a great deal of time on China, South America, East Asia and Indochina, the Middle East, and Africa, linking events together in a global web, avoiding the simplistic dichotomy of the USA and the USSR. The author explains events with a sweeping detachment, looking down on things from above, but the reader gets a good enough picture of things that seeking out further information on specific events doesn’t feel overwhelming. For me, personally, seeing the politics playing out in the second half of the Cold War explained a LOT about how the world is today. Events like the Recession or the 9/11 terror attacks in the States don’t seem quite so out of the blue when analyzed against the backdrop of the effects of the US/USSR ideological chess game in the Middle East or the economic changes of Reagan’s America. Even Donald Trump’s sweeping success in 2016 is due to his tapping directly into the ideological simplicity of the Cold War (sad that he didn’t share Reagan’s opinion of the importance of immigrants). This isn’t just a distant history. It’s an astute look at why the world is the way it is today, done in a balanced, academic manner. Definitely would recommend this one.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Martin Waterhouse

    This is one of those books that come along occasionally that I really wish everyone could read. It puts that ignored yet extraordinary period of recent history into context, and from a global perspective too which is quite an awesome feat indeed. Fascinating, eye-opening, thought-provoking - you get the idea. Read it!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Umer

    “One may not forget history. For without a knowledge of history the present could not be understood nor the future be shaped”. — Helmut Kohl. This book sets up the stage for Cold War detailing how in the aftermath of major global conflicts in the first half of twentieth century, the traditional European colonial powers waned while two continental super states emerged. As a result of Great Depression of 1930s, the universal confidence in capitalism was shaken while at the same time rise of the “One may not forget history. For without a knowledge of history the present could not be understood nor the future be shaped”. — Helmut Kohl. This book sets up the stage for Cold War detailing how in the aftermath of major global conflicts in the first half of twentieth century, the traditional European colonial powers waned while two continental super states emerged. As a result of Great Depression of 1930s, the universal confidence in capitalism was shaken while at the same time rise of the Soviet state post Bolshevik Revolution provided an alternative economic system. Around the world newly independent third world countries emerging from under the grip of retreating imperialists provided fertile ground for testing out these rival ideologies and ensuing struggle for influence resulted in various military coups and proxy wars. This quote from the book sums up the competition mentality at the expense of everything else. “As so often in the Cold War, the logic of the conflict defeated both self-interest and common human decency”. Rings true even in the context of domestic politics of today. The book concludes by looking at the world the Cold War forged after the breakup of Soviet Union. The gradual decline of US as the lone superpower and the rise of east Asia.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mick

    With the title of this book, The Cold War: A World History, Westad sets an ambitious goal for himself: to tell in a single volume the story of a global conflict that lasted the better part of four decades. In eight hundred pages he does just that, examining the conflict with nuance and detail from the end of the Second World War to the fall of the Soviet Union. What sets this book apart from the bulk of scholarship are three words in that title, A World History. Westad covers the same broad With the title of this book, The Cold War: A World History, Westad sets an ambitious goal for himself: to tell in a single volume the story of a global conflict that lasted the better part of four decades. In eight hundred pages he does just that, examining the conflict with nuance and detail from the end of the Second World War to the fall of the Soviet Union. What sets this book apart from the bulk of scholarship are three words in that title, A World History. Westad covers the same broad strokes as other histories of the period, but it is when he looks beyond the USSR and the West to Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and South Asia - the so-called "third world" - that this book stands out. Casting the Cold War as more than a showdown between superpowers allows Westad to focus on the roles of nationalism, decolonization, religious fundamentalism and the Non-Aligned Movement. He shows how these forces shaped and were shaped by the Cold War and in doing so presents a more complex and holistic picture than a traditional bipolar (or tripolar) view of the struggle would allow. With the hindsight allowed by two and a half decades Westad follows through to demonstrate how these forces created the world in which we now live.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Wing

    The Cold War followed the expiry and dismemberment of failed European empires. It was a successional contest amongst faux internationalist cum pseudo-imperialist ideologies and nationalistic aspirations populist or otherwise, peppered with hypocritical folly, imbecile foibles, and paranoiac delusions, that brought futile sufferings, existential horrors, and moral vacuousness, but was nevertheless buttressed by sporadic yet significant economic growth, albeit perpetuating the ills of avarice. The Cold War followed the expiry and dismemberment of failed European empires. It was a successional contest amongst faux internationalist cum pseudo-imperialist ideologies and nationalistic aspirations populist or otherwise, peppered with hypocritical folly, imbecile foibles, and paranoiac delusions, that brought futile sufferings, existential horrors, and moral vacuousness, but was nevertheless buttressed by sporadic yet significant economic growth, albeit perpetuating the ills of avarice. Pockets of positive outcomes were scattered at best. In the end, bread and circus bribed the day. Its legacy is an already partisan, tribalist, and unjust world further exacerbated by both globalized spiritual nihilism and extremism. Professor Westad has an extensively interweaving tapestry for his sympathetic prose to flourish in and he manages to steer his complex and variegated narrative in focus. Reading it brought back my many childhood memories of watching those perplexing news on television then. Now it all makes sense. Saturated with fascinating vignettes and insights, this is an immersive and sophisticated read that never stops dissipating hitherto misconceptions.

  19. 5 out of 5

    SpaceBear

    This is an absolutely fantastic book. The author does an incredible job of making the material interesting and engaging, avoiding the risk of presenting dry political science. He also avoids the pitfall of discussing the Cold War solely through the lens of 'USA vs USSR'. Instead, he looks at the diversity of experience both across nations and continents, and within them. Although, of course, the USA and USSR feature prominently, every major region of the world is discussed in turn, along with This is an absolutely fantastic book. The author does an incredible job of making the material interesting and engaging, avoiding the risk of presenting dry political science. He also avoids the pitfall of discussing the Cold War solely through the lens of 'USA vs USSR'. Instead, he looks at the diversity of experience both across nations and continents, and within them. Although, of course, the USA and USSR feature prominently, every major region of the world is discussed in turn, along with their predominant experiences during the period in question. Rather than presenting the Cold War as a clash of ideologies, he focuses on the key global trends of the time, including decolonization and the rise of multilateral institutions. If you want to read one book on the Cold War to get an idea of what was happening around the world, read this one!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bram

    At 600+ pages, this is not a short book, but it’s a surprisingly engaging book. Westad does a great job of telling a truly global story of the Cold War, in which actors in Africa, Central America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East have as much of a role as the leaders of the US and USSR. While Westad emphasizes the global nature of the Cold War and its long history, I wish there had been a little more about the Third World Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Although he discusses it it, and it At 600+ pages, this is not a short book, but it’s a surprisingly engaging book. Westad does a great job of telling a truly global story of the Cold War, in which actors in Africa, Central America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East have as much of a role as the leaders of the US and USSR. While Westad emphasizes the global nature of the Cold War and its long history, I wish there had been a little more about the Third World Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Although he discusses it it, and it did fail, for 10-15 years it represented a legitimate challenge to the bipolar view of the world. I also think Westad does a great job in the conclusion in talking about the consequences of the Cold War for the United States.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Larry

    Fantastic read. I love history but I love reading the history I’ve lived through. I remember visiting Germany and the Netherlands and looking up at the Awax aircraft that had just taken off from airbases in western Germany (now I know this was part of “Able Archer 83”. The Cold War and the superpowers wars through proxies fascinate me. How the hell did we all survive. At any stage either side could’ve just said “to hell with it”! And pushed the big red “launch” button. This account is massive but Fantastic read. I love history but I love reading the history I’ve lived through. I remember visiting Germany and the Netherlands and looking up at the Awax aircraft that had just taken off from airbases in western Germany (now I know this was part of “Able Archer 83”. The Cold War and the superpowers wars through proxies fascinate me. How the hell did we all survive. At any stage either side could’ve just said “to hell with it”! And pushed the big red “launch” button. This account is massive but it covers everything from Marx through to Yeltsin and hints at Russia today and missed opportunities that could’ve come out of the Cold War. The problem with a book like this is it peaks your interest to read more about specific events discussed in the book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Chris S

    The scale is breathtaking here, with Westad constructing a narrative that spans the entire globe and an entire century. He traces the roots of the Cold War to two competing trends - on one hand, an American exceptionalism and sense of mission buoyed by an increasing presence on the global stage, on the other, the expanding influence of Marxism culminating in the Soviet order. Westad then goes on to cover all major developments in the 20th century that relate in some way to this ideological The scale is breathtaking here, with Westad constructing a narrative that spans the entire globe and an entire century. He traces the roots of the Cold War to two competing trends - on one hand, an American exceptionalism and sense of mission buoyed by an increasing presence on the global stage, on the other, the expanding influence of Marxism culminating in the Soviet order. Westad then goes on to cover all major developments in the 20th century that relate in some way to this ideological conflict...essentially, all major developments of the 20th century. What emerges is a broad and comprehensive synthesis - perfect for those who want a big-picture overview of the Cold War, not so much for those who want anything in the least bit detailed.

  23. 5 out of 5

    James

    Remarkable to start a history of the Cold War in 1890. And remarkable also to add such deep context to the familiar U.S./Soviet Superpower story, by bringing in threads from across the world. It would certainly help most readers to have a firm understanding of the basic outlines of the story before approaching this scholarly masterpiece. But it is not dense, nor difficult if one did not. I'm eager to read more of Odd's work.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nick Harriss

    An excellent history covering the full period of the Cold War in terms of political, economic, military and social elements, without being overly focused on any one aspect. Well-rounded in its opinions and comprehensive in its coverage, it is well worth a read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Palindrome Mordnilap

    This is a superb book. I studied the Cold War at school, but there was so much I had either forgotten or else never knew to begin with. Westad does an impressive job of providing a truly global history of the Cold War, focusing not simply on the two superpowers but taking in South and Central America, Africa, India and its neighbours, the Middle East, East Asia and - of course - Europe. It is a book of tremendous breadth that nevertheless provides sufficient depth to leave the reader with a This is a superb book. I studied the Cold War at school, but there was so much I had either forgotten or else never knew to begin with. Westad does an impressive job of providing a truly global history of the Cold War, focusing not simply on the two superpowers but taking in South and Central America, Africa, India and its neighbours, the Middle East, East Asia and - of course - Europe. It is a book of tremendous breadth that nevertheless provides sufficient depth to leave the reader with a well-rounded view of events, their antecedents and the consequences. Westad starts by positioning the Cold War in terms of its origins in the two world wars, European decolonisation and diverging ideologies. He then goes on to show how it played out and what its longer term legacies have been, right up to the present day. He is entirely dispassionate in his observations and does not pass political judgements on events. He calls out atrocities where and when they occur, but his apportionment of blame is even-handed. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the book for me was reading about countries and conflicts outside of the major power blocs about which I previously knew next to nothing. The chapters on India, the Middle East, Africa and South America, in particular, are engaging and eye-opening. I never appreciated the extent to which India tried to be a deliberately anti-Cold War state and position itself as a neutral party, nor the degree to which revolutionaries in Cuba and Argentina went on to foment revolutions in other countries (one of which ultimately led to Che Guevara's own demise, many miles from Cuba). The spread of dictatorships across Latin America, the border wars between Israel and its Arab neighbours, the role of Vietnam in ending the Khmer Rouge (and its subsequent punishment by China for doing so) are all laid out here and Westad demonstrates how it all related to the wider narrative of the Cold War and the alliances countries made with one or other of the two superpowers - sometimes both at different times. I really recommend this book to anyone interested not just in the Cold War itself, but also in the current relationships and alliances between countries today. Organisations like the EU, ASEAN, OPEC and the UN all have their origins in the Cold War and their role today is still greatly informed by that period of recent history. To really understand the motivations and behaviours of contemporary Russia and the USA, especially as regards their foreign policy, requires a coherent understanding of the Cold War and how it ended. Westad has provided just such a book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gonzalo Rodriguez Garcia

    If you end up enjoying a book first seen in the National Review, it is probably a sign you are getting older, and you are turning right. I hope it is not true, but I must admit that within limits, Westad’s book can probably be read by people across a broad political spectrum. It is not the triumphalist American perspective I had somehow expected. Neither is it an impossible perfectly balanced account of the conflict. It is however, a History of the Cold War that cannot be loved or hated by many, If you end up enjoying a book first seen in the National Review, it is probably a sign you are getting older, and you are turning right. I hope it is not true, but I must admit that within limits, Westad’s book can probably be read by people across a broad political spectrum. It is not the triumphalist American perspective I had somehow expected. Neither is it an impossible perfectly balanced account of the conflict. It is however, a History of the Cold War that cannot be loved or hated by many, but which can be tolerated by most. Westad’s capacity to synthesize historical events is tremendous, but the tasks that he puts himself to is impossible: to summarize 50 years of world history. While I think this is a good overview of the conflict, it each chapter deserved its own book. Sometimes I just wanted to know more (e.g. the founding of the People’s Republics, Latin America, everything else). Other times I know, or I think I know, this is not the whole story (e.g. the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War). However, he has proven me wrong in a few things I considered facts, such as the death of Salvador Allende. One particularly good aspect of the book is the stress on the multipolarity of the conflict. From the Non-Aligned Movement and decolonization, to India and China, Westad makes clear not everything that happened in the period was because of Washington or Moscow. On a similar subject, wherever the superpowers got involved, he does a great job of pointing out at their many contradictions: from the Soviets initial preference for Chiang Kai-Shek , to the US support of various regimes that had very little to do with democracy. He goes away from the “both side committed atrocities, therefore both sides where bad” that appears in many shallow analyses of any conflict today. He instead shows that in many cases, whether due to lax ideological principles or flawed Intelligence; they ended up betting on the wrong horse, like Apartheid South Africa or the Khmer Rouge; or getting involved in the wrong place, such Afghanistan. Some of these “blatant mistakes”, like the Iran-Contra scandal are described too briefly for my taste, but he makes a good point of it being a complex conflict. I am done with these general histories, from now own, I should focus on particular areas, conflicts, or periods. Still, it was worth listening to it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jacob van Berkel

    If I were putting together a (history) book list for my younger self to read, I would probably start the 'recent history' shelf with this one. Because it puts into context a lot of the conflicts and tensions over the course of the later half of the 20th century you will read about later. Reading and/or listening to Noam Chomsky, for instance, you'll learn about all these things like the Vietnam War, the Korean War, Suharto's purge in Indonesia, the Suez Crisis, the Cuban revolution and conflicts If I were putting together a (history) book list for my younger self to read, I would probably start the 'recent history' shelf with this one. Because it puts into context a lot of the conflicts and tensions over the course of the later half of the 20th century you will read about later. Reading and/or listening to Noam Chomsky, for instance, you'll learn about all these things like the Vietnam War, the Korean War, Suharto's purge in Indonesia, the Suez Crisis, the Cuban revolution and conflicts with the US, the Hungarian Revolt, the Prague Spring, and Eastern Europe in general, Nicaragua's Sandinistas versus the Contras, death squads in El Salvador, US sponsored coups in Guatemala, Chile, and Iran, etc., the US relationships with Egypt and Israel, Syria and Iraq, etc., etc., ad inf. And while it's all fascinating and necessary stuff to learn about, put together all this information can overload your brain somewhat if you can't connect all these (sometimes seemingly) separate dots. This book is excellent for exactly that. Needless to say that besides a good contextualizer, it's also a great primer/refresher on all these conflicts & events. Not too deep of course, or the book would be 630,000 pages of text instead of just 630, but not too shallow either. With between 20 and 30 pages a chapter, I thought it was just right. I would 100% recommend this to everyone. Maybe especially for people looking to start somewhere. But I'm not sure. Maybe it's even more useful for putting things you already know into context. My guess is that it would be great for both. Also very interesting to read how much of a Cold War project European integration was (and is). Reading John Mearsheimer already made that clear to me, but up until now I always thought it was more implicit, the 'real' motivation lying behind all the idealistic rhetoric ... but no, it was pretty much in the foreground the whole time: 'we need to Voltron up to defend ourselves against the Soviet threat' is a literal quote. So the EU falling apart right now might just be inevitable in absence of an existential threat from the east. Maybe we could bribe China to invade Kazakhstan, get us to activate interlock again.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chris Damon

    Pretty dry and textbook like; can't recommend to the general reader. It's almost more like "1945-1991: A World History, including the Cold War" in that hardly anything that occurred on the planet during the Cold War escapes mention even if its relationship to the Cold War was tangential (for example, the Falklands War is briefly discussed in the book.) I would say that the book is most helpful in drawing a clearer picture of what was happening in Moscow and Beijing during the Cold War, as most Pretty dry and textbook like; can't recommend to the general reader. It's almost more like "1945-1991: A World History, including the Cold War" in that hardly anything that occurred on the planet during the Cold War escapes mention even if its relationship to the Cold War was tangential (for example, the Falklands War is briefly discussed in the book.) I would say that the book is most helpful in drawing a clearer picture of what was happening in Moscow and Beijing during the Cold War, as most of us in the West have only a hazy picture of the perspective of the other side. Turns out they weren't confident master-villains cleverly plotting the conquest of the planet but mostly just trying to muddle through like everyone else. While the book in some sense is guilty of over-coverage of events, there is at least one odd omission. In discussing Nixon and Kissinger's careful and secretive preparations for the opening to China and preparing an American public for that breakthrough, the author makes no mention at all of the so-called "Ping-Pong" diplomacy that preceded that historic Nixon visit to China. That is: the table tennis games played in China by US ping-pong players in the early seventies. That was a huge deal in the US media at the time. The author might not fully realize that for those of us who lived during those times, "Red China" was like a hostile alien planet inhabited by hordes who wanted to destroy us. It was shrouded in secrecy and all we knew was that it was bent on our destruction. We had nothing to do with them. So for a US table tennis team to actually go there was not far different from a human going to the moon.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Carr

    The Cold War has ended but it is not over. From the awkward embrace of the EU, the reactionary flirtations of Trump and Putin, the antagonism of Xi's China and the lingering flashpoints of Asia, we are still living in a post-Cold War world. Yet far too few authors have attempted to try and assess what the whole conflict meant, in the terms we need in order to understand its legacy. This is history on the macro-scale. Largely focused on political leaders and geopolitical ideas. While a deft and The Cold War has ended but it is not over. From the awkward embrace of the EU, the reactionary flirtations of Trump and Putin, the antagonism of Xi's China and the lingering flashpoints of Asia, we are still living in a post-Cold War world. Yet far too few authors have attempted to try and assess what the whole conflict meant, in the terms we need in order to understand its legacy. This is history on the macro-scale. Largely focused on political leaders and geopolitical ideas. While a deft and engaging writer, this is a big book that requires some chewing through. Europe occupies the central imagination and focus of the book, and perhaps rightly so given the nature of the Cold War conflict. Westad offers a cautiously western view of the conflict. It was ideological, communism was a brutal failure, and yet the US often harmed its own cause by abandoning core values in the conflict. Importantly, while telling a story of 'one' war, Westad strongly emphasises the significance and separation of each country and shows that their own debates and divisions about how the conflict should be understood. The willingness of smaller players to manipulate the larger for their own ends is not lost on him in his attempt to present the broader picture. I'd probably rate Tony Judt's magisterial 'Post-War; ahead in terms of 'Big History' books. That is, books which elegantly cover vast periods of time and space in a single cohesive narrative. Yet Westad's challenge is far greater than Judt's, and perhaps more important to our contemporary world. For that reason, it is well worth the effort to read, and to the enduring credit to the writer for having written

  30. 4 out of 5

    Barry Smirnoff

    A global history of the 1945-1991 period. A balanced treatment of the conflicts that made the world of today. How the struggles of the United States and the USSR was not an even conflict as the United States and its allies were much more economically successful. The defeat of Russia was the result of the Soviet systems inability to reform itself without the compleat collapse of the political system. The book has a comprehensive approach to the regional conflicts that forced each nation to A global history of the 1945-1991 period. A balanced treatment of the conflicts that made the world of today. How the struggles of the United States and the USSR was not an even conflict as the United States and its allies were much more economically successful. The defeat of Russia was the result of the Soviet systems inability to reform itself without the compleat collapse of the political system. The book has a comprehensive approach to the regional conflicts that forced each nation to conform to the rules of International Relations as the world dealt with the arms race, the space race, and the ecological and technological changes of the period. I found the book very useful in summarizing the various aspects of nuclear and military competition. The book could have dealt better with the issues raised by the demise of the Soviet Union. The role of George H.W. Bush in Gorbachev’s defeat is only hinted at. If the US had a more positive role in the creation of the independent states that made up the Warsaw Pact, we would not be dealing with the new Cold War with Putin, looking to give Russia some self respect.

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